There are 100 million Americans living with chronic pain. (1,2,3) Chronic pain can happen as the result of autoimmune disease, side effects of an injury, or many other reasons that aren’t as easily identified.
Nature has its own pain medicine in the form of food and in cases of chronic pain, turning to diet and lifestyle to help mediate symptoms can be effective, reduce inflammation, and create long-lasting relief.
9 Foods That Work Better Than Aspirin
These nine foods have been researched and proven to help correct the mechanisms within the body that can contribute to long-term and chronic pain problems. Eating them regularly can help lead to lasting relief.
Well known for their anti-inflammatory health benefits, cherries are rich in antioxidants and anthocyanins, which give the cherries their deep color and can help to reduce pain-causing mechanisms in the body, not to mention the ability to reduce cancer-causing activities in cells and oxidative damage to the cardiovascular system. (4,5)
While NSAIDs are often taken for pain and inflammation, tart cherries are similarly effective at producing the same effect with both acute and chronic pain, and they don’t come with any OTC side effects, like stomach bleeding risks or ulcers. (6)
For the best pain relief results, cherries should be eaten daily, with two servings being the best amount to provide noticeable relief and reduced inflammatory markers. (7)
Even those who experience chronic pain from intense physical exercise, such as marathon running, can benefit from drinking tart cherry juice for a week before a big event, during, and then after. (8)
The sulfur compounds in garlic make it a potent health food, beneficial not only for pain relief (like arthritis), but also for immunity, digestion, and reducing the risk of certain kinds of cancer. (9)
While garlic in its raw form may be unappetizing, garlic can be eaten in many ways. To work it into a diet regularly, add roasted garlic to meat and vegetable dishes. Peeling and chopping raw garlic might not seem like a fun task, but you can get an equal amount of flavor and benefit from it if you peel and quarter. Eating roasted garlic pieces when they’re soft and roasted can be as tasty as any other roasted vegetable, and can produce some potent anti-inflammatory responses within the body. Try to work garlic in daily for maximum effects.
3. Healthy Fats
We all know that healthy fats such as olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., in salmon) are good for us. Specifically, they can cut inflammation in the body that can lead to chronic pain conditions or other diseases and disorders. (10)
Regular intake of omega-3s can result in equivalent pain-relieving effects when compared with NSAIDs like ibuprofen – without any potentially damaging side effects. (11) Even severe chronic conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, respond to the pain relieving effects of omega-3 fatty acids. (12)
Beyond that, a proper balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids can lead to better overall health, reduced risk of blood pressure problems, and an overall decreased cancer risk. (13)
4. Leafy Greens
Eating greens is often synonymous with health, but their benefits extend well beyond weight loss, detox, and reduced cancer risk. A high daily intake of both vegetables and fruits can lead to the prevention of pain-associated diseases and disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis. (14)
While there are mixed answers on how many servings of leafy greens one should eat each day for preventive effects, an overall eight to ten servings of vegetables and fruits daily is recommended for the best results. Of those, perhaps two to three servings of vegetables should be leafy greens. Leafy greens are rich in quercetin, a type of flavonoid that is responsible for broad anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as vitamin C, vitamin K, and essential minerals like magnesium. (15)
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can help to reduce the inflammation associated with chronic disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis. (16) It can also help to reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain after surgery.
Turmeric can be consumed in a variety of forms, including as a spice added to foods or drinks and encapsulated for those who are not tolerant of the signature spicy taste. Two to three teaspoons of turmeric daily can help to provide therapeutic levels of relief and preventive benefits with little side effects. Note: Turmeric absorbs best when taken in combination with black pepper (approximately 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper for every 1 teaspoon of turmeric). (17)
The only caution is that individuals also taking blood thinners should check with their doctors before adding turmeric to their diet.
Ginger is in the same family of anti-inflammatory spices as turmeric. While they share similar benefits, ginger is well known for its ability to relieve nausea associated with pregnancy and cancer treatments. It can also relieve pain in the same category as NSAIDs, making it another effective alternative to over-the-counter medications that have unpleasant side effects. (18)
Ginger is also effective at relieving long-term pain associated with chronic inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. (19)
Ginger can be eaten raw or pickled, grated or brewed into tea, added as a spice to dishes, or encapsulated. Ginger tea or capsules seem to be the most efficient way to regularly consume it. You can drink up to four cups of tea daily, and capsules should follow daily recommendations or what practitioners suggest. Similar to turmeric, those on blood thinners should consult their doctors before adding daily ginger to their diet.
Cinnamon is a popular natural remedy for helping to control blood sugar, but it can also keep inflammation levels low in the body and improve digestion. (20) Spices have long been used for medicinal purposes, but in a modern day where pharmaceutical options abound, it is rarer to use food as medicine. Still, cinnamon and other spices can have broad anti-inflammatory benefits and in many cases, can be equally as effective to (or more) than NSAIDs, whether over-the-counter or prescription. (21)
For cinnamon to be used in the diet to reduce pain, it should be in powdered form, and should be the Ceylon variety, not cassia. Cassia is the most common form and is less expensive, but toxicity can be of concern when cassia is consumed in large quantities. Ceylon cinnamon presents no toxicity risks and has more potent health benefits. (22) Ceylon cinnamon is the preferred supplemental form, and for best results, one should take approximately 1-2 teaspoons per day.
8. Bone Broth
Whether the pain that someone experiences is activity related, leftover from an old injury, or due to a chronic inflammatory condition, bone broth in the diet can help to reduce chronic pain and flares. This is due to the presence of collagen in bone broth, which can help to alleviate joint problems and repair pain that originates from the digestive tract. (23)
Inflammatory disorders specifically respond well to the natural collagen-containing gelatin that is found in true bone broth. (24) Bone broth and meat stock are different, since bone broth extracts nutrients from the bones, such as gelatin, minerals, and amino acids, whereas stock only contains nutrients from the meat. While both can be healthy, stock contains no pain-relieving properties.
Bone broth can safely be consumed daily in large quantities. Since it is a whole food that contains protein, some healthy fat, and plenty of naturally occurring nutrients, it can be used in cooking dishes like soups or stews or can be taken on its own as a beverage or a snack.
9. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage have several health benefits. They naturally support detox organs like the liver and kidneys, and they contain plenty of natural fiber, folate, and vitamin C. But they can also help to regulate inflammatory bacteria within the digestive tract, especially H. pylori, which is implicated in ulcers and other chronic digestive conditions. (25) Since the body obtains all of its nutrients via digestion, an inflamed digestive system will contribute to inflammation throughout the rest of the body. Eating cruciferous vegetables daily can help to promote the healthy elimination of toxins as well as the proper regulation of the digestive system.
3 Pain-Relieving Lifestyle Factors
While diet can go a long way in addressing chronic pain, fighting it naturally with a one-two punch of diet and lifestyle can help to bring faster relief and longer lasting results.
Well-known for its stress-relieving benefits, yoga can also help to relieve tissue stress that can lead to pain. (26) It is effective for chronic problems like rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, and also from pain associated with pregnancy, athletic injuries, and thyroid problems.
Yoga can effectively reduce inflammatory markers within the body, proving that its calming effects go well beyond mindfulness and anxiety relief. (27)
To gain benefits of yoga, you can successfully achieve poses and health benefits from the comfort of your own home or take a class. If practicing at home, all you need is a yoga mat (or a soft surface like a carpet) and an online program or a sequence of poses you can follow.
Acupuncture can provide pain relief that clinically compares to other methods. When patients get regular treatments, it can improve mobility and reduce pain, as well as relieving other issues often associated with chronic pain, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. (28)
Acupuncture can even provide relief in chronic pain disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. (29) When paired with a pain-relieving diet, acupuncture can have long-lasting results and can dramatically improve quality of life.
Similar to both yoga and acupuncture, regular massage treatments by a qualified expert can help to alleviate chronic pain, particularly the type brought on by arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other inflammatory pain conditions. (30) Massage can even reduce pain associated with cancer treatments. (31)
When finding a massage therapist, ensure that they have proper certification and are familiar with massage for pain relief. An unqualified massage therapist could worsen muscular or joint pain.
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